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How to Talk to Your Teen about Dating

Being a parent is one of the most challenging tasks in life, but parenting teenagers can be the ultimate challenge. Teenagers endure immense changes in their lives, especially when it comes to their physical body and their hormones. When parenting teens it is inevitable that they will start to wonder about things such as dating and romance, and it might be a scary conversation to have.

While relationships and dating may be fun for teens, it also comes with risks that should be discussed with a parent or guardian in a safe environment. According to studies, one in three teens says that they know someone who has been physically assaulted by a dating partner. It is important to open the dialogue with your teen to discuss potential risks of dating violence, provide sex education and establish an open and safe space for conversation in your family in the event someone finds themselves in a risky situation.

“Before opening dialogue with your teen, it’s really important to have established trust,” says Shannon Wallmarker, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Specialist at Centerstone, “If they expect a negative reaction or judgment, they’re likely not going to be open to any kind of discussion.” When the space feels safe and comfortable for everyone, try to use open-ended questions to bring up the information you want them to know. Ask questions such as, What do you think a healthy relationship looks like? What do you think dating violence looks like? Use this as a way to educate your teen and let them view you as a reliable source of information.

Teen dating violence poses many risks that include psychologically abusive behaviors such as manipulation, isolation from friends and family and coercion in addition to physically abusive behaviors like sexual assault or domestic violence. Remember when you’re discussing sensitive information on topics like dating violence to also share examples of healthy relationships! Empowering your teen to recognize and use healthy behaviors when they start dating will help them to identify those red flags. Healthy relationship behaviors look like effective communication, mutual respect, honesty, compromise, problem-solving, understanding, confidence, individuality, responsibility and more.

“Consider the relationships that are being modeled in your teen’s life. What behaviors are present? Really try to make an effort and model those healthy behaviors for your teen,” says Wallmarker. There are many risks to dating, but parents might be able to implement these practices and stay involved to better notice red flags or behaviors that might be unsafe for your teen:

  • Ask questions. “Be involved in your teen’s life by asking questions about their partner,” says Wallmarker, “Teens typically get excited when they start dating someone new. Some will want to talk about them while others won’t. Both are normal reactions, but keep the door for conversation open by showing your interest.” Try to ask questions about your teen’s partner and how their friends feel about them. Remember to keep an open mind!
  • Meet the partner. Get to know your teen’s partner by offering to take them to their dates or chaperone. This is one way to stay involved by watching how your teen and their partner interact to notice red flags or abusive behaviors. It also is a way to promote more interaction between parents and their teen’s partner to add value in your teen’s happiness.
  • Offer safety. It is important for teens to feel safe with their parents. Try to offer safety plans with your teen, not just for dates but also with outings with friends. If your child feels unsafe, empower them to say no to anything they don’t want to do, and set something in place that will let them know that you will be there for them in times of need.
  • Show care. No matter what, the most important thing you can do is show that you care. If you notice red flags or strange behavior from your teen try to approach them in a sensitive manner. Try to make your inquiries and concerns more about your teen and their wellbeing.

There are many lessons that teens and parents can learn from each other so try to create a space that is full of safety and education for your family.

If you or someone you know is experiencing dating violence or mental health struggles, Centerstone can help. Call 1-877-HOPE123 (1-877-467-3123) for more information.

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